A long time ago (in the early 1980s), there was this young Australian woman named Rani Muirwig. She discovered a simple little fishing town called Pemuteran, in Bali Indonesia, where there were spectacular coral reefs for snorkeling and diving. Ronnie loved to scuba dive. So, she made this town her new favorite get away place.
In the 1990’s the Indonesian government declared that bombing was the most efficient way to fish. So the fishermen were encouraged to put explosion into the ocean to kill thousands of fish at a time, despite the destructive impact on the coral reefs. Furthermore, the (very poor) fishermen discovered that aquarium fish were fetching a high price on the market. And the best way to catch them was to put cyanide poison into the coral reef to stun the fish so that they can bag them easily.
When Rani came back to her playground some years later, she discovered that most of her reef were either dead or broken into bits and pieces washed onto the shore. The water was dark and dingy and her beautiful colorful fish were all gone. Rani was devastated.
She didn’t know what to do or whom to turn to. Because this was not seen as a problem to anyone there. She tried to complain, but to whom? The fishermen were just trying to feed their family. Pemuteran was a very harsh place, very little rain, no rice growing field, very little tourist, and no factory. She spent many days walking up and down her favorite beach, sucking hard on her cigarettes, trying to think of ways to stop this madness.
Luckily by 1997, because the reef was destroyed, along with global warming, the fishing became much more scarce and the local government had to do something to address their livelihood problem. At the same time, by some divine intervention (the Balinese would say) Rani met Professor Wolf Hibertz on one of her walks on the beach. This wiry gray hair man, was busy setting up some strange new contraption on her beach. As the two got to know each other, she learned that he was working on a BioRock project, where he and his team go around the world to try to revitalize and safe the coral reefs.
The process was very simple. They attached various live corals to a metal framework (this served as the anode), then ran 12 volt electricity to it (via solar power) and attached a cathode nearby, somehow the current flow between the cathode and anode stimulated growth in the coral, five times faster than normal speed.
Excitedly, Rani said “That’s great!!! can you fix all the reef here? How many more of these things can you put in? Problem solved, right?” “Not so fast” he said. “First of all, to revive this coast right here we would require many structures, and that needs money. Secondly if they continue to bomb the reef as we build them up, it would defeat our purpose. We must get the locals involved and change their thinking and ways of fishing. And we can’t change that unless we help them feed their families.”
Long story short, Rani got involved! She spent the last ten years taking on this project. She became the protector and driving force behind the technology. Today, the reefs in Pemuteran are beautiful and full of fish. I saw them with my own eyes. The gentle waves that lap onto the beach are not cluttered with bits of crumbled corals, unlike other beaches in Bali, where there is no coral reef protection enforcement. The scientists are long gone. Rani is left with a small handful of locals to maintain and care for the project. Tourism is alive and well in Pemuteran, because people want to see the project and the reefs, therefore the town of Pemuteran has a source of income. So the fish are happy, the people are happy, and Rani is happy.
The reason why I wrote about Rani, is because of the leadership story underneath the coral reef story. As I listened to her recounting her involvement, looked a the lines on her face, and felt the passion in her words (ten plus years into this project and she was still passionate), I was moved and inspired by her. She is a simple woman, just another global citizen like anyone of us. She didn’t have any grand plan to do good or make a difference. She just loved looking at those pretty fish around the corals. Yet she made a huge difference because she cared and because she got involved. And she is humble about it, doing everything that is needed to keep the project alive and to revitalize Pemuteran. She is not thumping her chest to say “Look at me, Look at me…” She is truly an example of a female leader.
Here’s to you Rani. Thank you for bringing the fish back to Pemuteran.
ps. If you would like to know more details, this 7min. link explains what happened http://tinyurl.com/baliuntamed-pemuteran-MaiVu
And if you would like to participate in saving the coral reefs, you can adopt a baby coral. It’s COOL! and makes a meaningful gift for someone. The gift that keeps on giving.